Book review: City of Friends

STACEY, Gaby, Beth and Melissa all met at university in London, the only female students in a roomful of men studying economics.

More than two decades later, all four are successful in their chosen careers. They remain close friends but live quite different lives. Melissa is the single mother of a teenage boy; Gaby's career-driven, not particularly maternal, but cherishes her three children; Stacey's happily married; and Beth is gay and in a long-term relationship.

When we meet the four friends, Stacey's just lost her job. Her mother's been diagnosed with dementia and is moving in with Stacey and her supportive husband. But Stacey needs flexible work arrangements and despite her flawless reputation as a senior partner at her firm, her request is denied and she's suddenly made redundant.

This change is the catalyst for much that follows, and a turning point in the lives of all four women, now in their late 40s.

City of Friends is Trollope's 20th novel and again the popular English writer challenges readers by examining the fragile nature of relationships amid changing circumstances.

Although possibly more successful, the four women could be anyone readers know. Friends, family or neighbours. The characters are all relatable and very realistic.

They're grappling with parenting, marriage, careers and family commitments. Stacey's difficulties with her mother and the challenges she faces as a daughter and wife are particularly interesting; as is the way in which she views her role in life following the loss of a career to which she's devoted herself.

Beth's confronted with something that makes her question her priorities; Gaby's sturdy home life and loyalty to her friends is threatened; and Melissa's close relationship with her son is tested by the re-appearance of his father and new family.

This well-written and addictive novel will appeal to a broad audience and be of particular interest to those in similar circumstances. And - though it's a feel-good read - Trollope thankfully avoids an overly sentimental fairytale ending for all of our characters.

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